//the hard truth about writing

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Writer. The word conjures up so many ideas and images. Sipping tea, sitting on a window seat, stargazing, dancing barefoot through spring grass, daisy chains, ink pots and quill pens and probably a dragon or two.

I hate to break it to you, but none of these things have to do with writing. I think many people dream of being writers because it sounds so romantic, so fun, so carefree. Look – it’s not like we wake up in the morning and sail away on a dreamboat made of paper. (Although if I’m being honest, that would be nice.)

Are you a writer if you write? Yes. But I have known many writers who will never be authors. They talk about getting a publisher one day, they discuss editing and all the grand novel ideas swirling in their minds, but there are common themes weaving a pattern through their ‘work habits.’

  • Distractions. Many people have inspiration bursting at the seams. They have incredible ideas that leave me green with envy, and yet they never finish anything. And I mean anything. They get so caught up in worldbuilding that they become distracted by every minute detail, or they get yet another novel idea and they have to start it that very instant, or the worst offender: plot bunnies. Many people imagine plot bunnies as cute, fuzzy critters that pop into your mind and lead you down a rabbit hole into a better storyline, but this is merely a disguise. Plot bunnies are, in fact, red-eyed phantom demons sent to makes very certain you never, ever finish that book, or that chapter, or that plot. If you blame something on the Plot Bunnies, congratulations – evil has won.
  • Grammar. Congratulations – you have motivation. You don’t get distracted, and you have fantastic ideas. However, your grammar is lacking. How important is punctuation, really? How many adverbs need cut? Actually, wait – what is an adverb? I’ve read many manuscripts before that could have been incredible books, but I couldn’t slog through the bad grammar, or the complete lack thereof. ‘Oh, that’s what editors are for’ is not an excuse. Your editor is hired to fine-tune things, not to waste three years of their life by completely overhauling your manuscript. If you don’t know grammar, learn it. You have no excuse except laziness.
  • Too many things at once. This falls in with the first category, really, and I used to be guilty of this myself. I would try to write four or five (or eight or nine) books at once, and I wouldn’t finish any of them. I was spread thin, like peanut butter over too much toast (completely original analogy, thank you) and I didn’t have enough inspiration or motivation to keep up with any of them. In an attempt to write them all, I wrote none. This is a sad thing and I urge you not to fall headfirst into the pit of ‘yes, I’m writing twelve novels at once and I’m doing JUST FINE thankyouverymuch.’ You aren’t doing ‘just fine.’ You’re taking years to finish even one novel, and unless you’re writing Les Miserables (please don’t be writing Les Miserables), this is inexcusable.

BUT MIRRIAM, you say, I have none of these problems! I’m not distracted, my grammar is near-flawless, I write only one or two novels at a time—and yet, something is still missing. I can’t complete a novel, and I can’t remain inspired. Why is this?

I may have some hard news for you.

You may not be an author. You may enjoy writing, you may have completed every writer dare on Pinterest, you may word-war with the best of them and you may talk about writing like it’s the air you breathe, but if you have never completed a novel, writing seriously may not be for you. I’m not saying authors don’t have dry spells, or that authors are exempt from writer’s block. But if you’ve been dabbling in writing for years and you haven’t completed anything, you may need to take a step back and look things over with a critical eye.

I know usually I’m more optimistic and encouraging than this, but I’m not trying to break your heart or crush your soul like a grape. I’ve known many people who simply weren’t cut out to be writers or authors. Did they enjoy writing? You bet. Were they decent writers? Sure, some of them were even good. And yet they’ve never finished a novel. They talk about writing until the sun goes down, but they never sit down and do it.

Because here’s the thing – being a writer isn’t nearly as romantic as it sounds. Not that it can’t be romantic, but romance is a side-dish. The main course means typing until your vision blurs and your fingers cramp, and it means writing even when you don’t feel like it. Even when your brain feels like a hollowed-out melon. It means doing more than just thinking about writing, or talking about writing. It means hard work. It means discipline.

If you enjoy writing, then please write. But if you want to be an author, you have to realize the amount of work and dedication it takes. If it’s what you want, don’t be daunted. Be encouraged, because it’s worth having, and the higher the hill the greater the satisfaction when you reach the top.

But save the daisy chains and barefoot dancing. They can be a reward for finishing your next chapter.

PS. This may have seemed a little on the Downer side, but hopefully the next post will provide some Uplift because if you aren’t sure either way but you really, really want to write – then I really, really want you to write, too.

PPS. Arielle and I decided we should both write about this topic today, so visit her insightful post here!

PPPS. Jenny joined in! Read her elegant rant here!

 

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20 thoughts on “//the hard truth about writing

  1. 1) Grammar is so important. People that say, “good writing has nothing to do with good grammar” make me want to throw a brick at them.

    2) This whole post goes for everything in life. Writing, becoming a lawyer, doctor, janitor, whatever. If you don’t put in the work, don’t complain that you’re getting no where in life. It’s your fault.

    3) What if you’ve finished like five books, but don’t have the inspiration or energy to continue writing? Would you consider that a dry spell or “writing is a hobby + you’re not called to be a writer”? Or should I just wait a bit and see?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Absolutely. ;) For more context, I haven’t really done anything I enjoy for a while just because of the work load. So it’s not just writing that’s taking a spot on the back burner.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. As someone who follows multiple “writerly” blogs, this post [and Jenny’s] was a breath of fresh air. In high school I used to do all the writing prompts I could get my hands on, participated in NaNoWriMo every year, etc. But I never finished a book…I never really wanted to. I realized I liked to write, but the whole “aspiring author” thing didn’t really appeal to me and I needed to stop pretending that it did. So I settled into a lifestyle blog and maintaining a private journal and these are now my creative outlets. For me it was a matter of being honest about what I was doing and realizing, “I’m never finishing a book and I don’t really have any intention to, so I need to stop calling myself a ‘writer’.”

    I think this same concept can apply to our lives and vocations in a broader sense, in the sense that we need to start looking objectively at what we are actually doing and stop defining ourselves by “what we are going to eventually do” or “what we aspire to” because that’s not really being honest with ourselves AND it’s a sure way to stifle any potential growth we may have.

    Thanks for the tough love, Mirriam. ;)

    Dani xoxo

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  3. I’m with Dani- I’ve done a lot of writing in the past and called myself a writer, but I never finished anything. I think that since I was hanging out with lots of people who were writers (or “writers”) and followed the blogs of writers that I wanted to be like them.
    It wasn’t until a few years ago that I had a moment of “hang on, this isn’t your talent. you don’t actually enjoy this.” I realized that I can’t write novels. I’m good at short stories, so I write those when I need to do creative writing, but I’ll never be an author. It was nice to be able to let go of the “writer” mentality.

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  4. BRAVA, MIR! We should ‘collaborate’ like this more often, this was great fun and very productive- hopefully useful for readers, too.

    ‘plot bunnies are in fact red-eyed phantom demons’ YOU SAID IT. *glares darkly at them and locks them securely in Pinterest boards so dark they will never come to light… until Sauron’s power is grown so dark that the Witch King escapes all spells*

    ‘the higher the hill, the greater the satisfaction when you reach the top’ AMEN.

    (For the record, as much as I loved some parts of Les Miserables, and yes, I did read the entire book [1000 of the pages in a single week no less]; I will never write a novel like that. Never. Ever.)

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  5. I’m well aware I will absolutely positively never in this world or the next be an author. At least not a published one. Thank you for telling me.
    I’d love to see the answer to Rana’s question too.

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  6. I would also like to add that writing novels isn’t the only writing avenue open. I’ve personally found great joy in abandoning some story ideas for poetry and short stories. (And also because school papers leach all my creativity out of me)

    Liked by 2 people

  7. What Ruth said.

    My thought in reading your post, Mirriam, was agreement *if* writing and authorship only apply to novel-writing. I have come to grips with the fact that I don’t write well when I try to write anything long. Example: multiple NaNoWriMo wins and no decent stories to show for it. I’m a poet and a short-story writer at heart. As I’ve embraced that, I’ve found that I *am* a writer. I haven’t yet pulled together anything book-length to publish, but I do not have any qualms about calling myself a writer (especially since my poetry has been published in anthologies and regularly on my own blog). I do think I will publish a book at some point, I’m just focusing on my fashion-design and sewing right now. Even with that, I’ve embraced my poetic voice and chosen to become known for a voice which is unique in the fashion world. I stepped out on a limb – even my tutorials are free verse poetry – and so far it’s working.

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  8. This is such a GREAT blog post! Thank you~~~
    There are so many different types of authors and I would love to see you go into that with more depth! :D There are column-writers, journalists, children’s book writers, poets, the list goes on and on!
    I tried the novel thing a few times, and I did actually finish one. It was a short, very silly romance novella I wrote when I was 15. It wasn’t very good, but it expanded my idea of what it meant to actually finish a novel.
    Academic writing helped me even more. When you are literally dying to be done with a piece of work, it’s no longer fun to keep it lying around gathering dust. You have to plan, plan, plan that 20 page research paper, and it is not easy.
    I wouldn’t consider writing as a full time job for myself; I love teaching way. too. much. But it has become a hobby I am very passionate about. I no longer write novels, though I’ve had a manga plot boiling in my head for ages now and would love to combine my writing and drawing skills to create it sometime in my mid-twenties, or even simply write the plot as a novel and illustrate it. However, whether or not I actually do that is yet to be seen.
    I do, however, very frequently write poems. I don’t know how good they are-poems are one of those things which are difficult to judge. I like impressionist work and I’m inspired by Japanese and Korean poetry. My poems are definitely a public diary and my greatest emotional outlet; I write about real moments of beauty or real emotions I am struggling with, or real people who have inspired me.
    Do I still love the barefoot dancing and daisy chains? YES. But I don’t think I can call that totally a writer’s thing. One of my friends here at school does columns for a history/conservative politics/general newspaper student group, and there are no daisy chains anywhere in his being. ;) Once again going back to my “different types of authors thing”.
    Finally, no body has to be a full-time author to still be an author. If you write something and publish it, it is your work. It can be a hobby, or it can just be the result of a struggle between two loves (like mine): being with others and giving them knowledge face to face, and being alone to give others beautiful emotions through words.

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  9. Very thought provoking post! (I went and read the other posts too and enjoyed the different takes.) I’m kind of falling into the category of too many projects right now, and trying to make it through graduate school. But, yeah, can’t wait for classes to be finished so I have more time to dedicate to writing. But I have prioritized my list of projects. Great post!

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  10. THANK YOu. Thank you for this. This is important to remember and to know. My grandma loved writing, she wrote short stories all the time. But because of life and stuff, she didn’t publish and probably never will. But she’s okay with that. She didn’t write to be published; she wrote because she loved it. (Which I think is a great idea too.) Plus, her love of writing passed on to me and now I write because I love it.
    But it does take hard work and concentration. It can be fun, but it can also be tiring and make you want to scream. It can drain you. It’s work, hard work. So I think I agree–everybody could have the potential to love writing/be a writer, but not everybody is cut out to be an author or a published writer.

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  11. Loved the Tangled reference. :-D Great discussion though. I’ve enjoyed reading all of the comments and seeing everyone’s perspective. It’s can be a hard thing to talk about. I have a friend who decided to do writing over teaching because writing “pays more” and I didn’t really know what to say. I think I should share this post on my Facebook. :-)

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  12. Wow, this week’s mix of posts on writers/authors/storytellers/novelists/etc. from various bloggers has offered lots of great stuff to chew on! I’ve read your posts, Arielle’s, Jenny’s, Deb’s (and Christine had one earlier this week, which now feels like a precursor to the whole topic!)… And I find myself in the weird position of basically agreeing with every single one of you. Even when some of the views seem to contradict, I feel like I’m somewhere in the murky middle, understanding and nodding along with each of you.

    But this. Thank you. I absolutely love encouragement and inspiration when it comes to writing–because it’s HARD some days, and we occasionally need a hand up–but I equally appreciate the tough love.

    What we all have in common here is that we are storytellers. And we mustn’t forget that storytellers come in a huge variety of subspecies, and that we may cross from one to another to another during our lifetimes. For those of us who sincerely aspire to make a career out of this writing thing, your reminder is SPOT ON. Writing is hard work. It takes focus! It often means plugging along on a single track, heedless of the plot bunny hordes, until you get where you’re aiming to go. It means honing your craft, honing your very self, and getting serious about your writing.

    This ‘hard truth about writing’ is actually super encouraging for me right now… I’ve been working on the same thing for about eight years, and when I look around at other writers and bloggers who produce a zillion things at a lightning fast rate, I wonder sometimes if I’m a tortoise writer. If I will ever be able to create books fast enough to make it in the publishing world. But if I’d abandoned my series in favor of something new, I would have missed out on many valuable lessons.

    I suppose I just repeated your entire post. XD Anyway, all that to say: thank you for an immensely thoughtful and wonderful contribution to the topic! <333

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  13. Really good post. I’ve had a lot of friends that tried to write but just ended up not being writers. It was disappointing for me, because they were my writing buddies, but some people just aren’t cut out for it.

    storitorigrace.blogspot.com

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